International Women’s Day is on Saturday, March 8th. If you aren’t familiar with this global event, it celebrates “the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future.” Many of the strong women throughout history were also known for their beauty or for challenging societal norms of the day, and altering the course of beauty ideals. I’ve researched and identified 9 of these revolutionary women, each with their own unique contribution that influenced the art and science of cosmetology. Some of these women set out to be pioneers, others are accidental icons, proving that strength and confidence are beauty.
Learn more about these beauty icons below.
Beauty Icons: Strong Women Who Changed the Course of Beauty 1 of 10
Cleopatra – Introduced the Original Cat Eye 2 of 10
The Egyptian queen was famous, or perhaps infamous, for her great beauty and affairs with both Julius Ceasar and Mark Antony. Research now shows that her iconic thick eyeliner may have also been worn to protect against eye infections. Regardless, the look is still emulated today, recently in Katie Perry's video for "Dark Horse". Cleopatra was also known for a variety of beauty rituals that still hold up in modern times including milk and honey baths.
Photo credit: Matycarlota (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons
Madam C.J. Walker – Revolutionized Modern African American Hair Care 3 of 10
Born the daughter of slaves, this incredible woman rose from poverty to become one of the most successful entrepreneurs of the 20th century. After suffering from hair loss, she developed her own hair and scalp treatment. The formula, which she claimed came to her in a dream, became known as Madam Walker's Wonderful Hair Grower. Madam Walker developed sophisticated sales and marketing techniques and found great success, establishing herself as a pioneer in modern African American hair care.
Photo credit: Scurlock Studio [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Coco Chanel – Champion of Fragrance and Individual Style 4 of 10
Fashion designer Coco Chanel was known for far more than her famous suits. In the 1920s, she launched her first perfume, Chanel No. 5, and heralded fragrance as "the unseen, unforgettable, ultimate accessory of fashion ... that heralds your arrival and prolongs your departure." She also encouraged women to choose colors that work best for them and stick with them regardless of trends. Her advice, "The best color is the one that looks good on you," along with countless other tidbits on fashion and beauty have been quoted time and time again. My favorite is: "In order to be irreplaceable, one must always be different."
Photo credit: Wikipedia
Lucille Ball – Proved a Woman Can Be Funny and Beautiful 5 of 10
Actress Lucille Ball was the first to prove that a woman can be hilarious and gorgeous, paving the way for so many beautiful comediennes of today, such as Tina Fey and Kristen Wiig. She got her start in show business as a professional model before dying her naturally brown hair the fiery red that would become her trademark, along with drawn-on brows, thick eyelashes, and red lipstick. As she said: "Once in his life, every man is entitled to fall madly in love with a gorgeous redhead." As smart as she was beautiful, Ball was the first woman to own her own studio.
Helena Rubenstein – Personalized Skincare Regimens 6 of 10
In the early 1900s, Helena Rubenstein changed the course of beauty as we know it. Intrigued by the power that beauty brought to women, she worked with scientists to revolutionize skincare. She was the first to personalize beauty by skin type, and she created the first products to specifically address anti-aging, acne, and sun care. She also developed the first waterproof mascara in 1939. Her passion paid off: At the time of her death, Rubenstein was one of the richest women in the world.
Joan of Arc – Empowered Women to Cut Their Hair 7 of 10
As a teenager, this brave woman led the French army to defeat the British at Orleans during the Hundred Years' War in the 1400s, and was later captured and burned at the stake by the enemy. She claimed to hear voices that led her to victory. These same voices instructed her to dress as a man and to cut her long hair. She wore her hair in a pageboy style that later influenced popular hairstylist Monsieur Antoine, to cut his client's hair into a bob in 1909. The style took off in the '20s and the rest is history.
Frida Kahlo – Challenged Ideals and Made "Flaws" Assets 8 of 10
Mexican-born painter Frida Kahlo was best known for her self-portraits. Long before the selfie craze, choosing herself as a subject made her a feminist icon for depicting a female experience. In all her work, she captured the emotions of her turbulent life; she was in horrible traffic accident as a teenager that condemned her to ongoing pain and health problems, and she endured a very rocky marriage to fellow painter Diego Rivera. Even though Kahlo played up her dramatic features like her heavy brows and brooding eyes, she was utterly compelling and charismatic, challenging conventional notions of beauty.
Photo credit: Carl Van Vechten [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Audrey Hepburn – Advocate of Inner Beauty 9 of 10
A survivor of World War II, Audrey Hepburn went on to become one of the most sought-after actresses of the mid-20th century. The pixie she sported in Roman Holiday came a decade before Mia Farrow and Twiggy popularized the style. Though Hepburn was well known for her beauty, she humbly referred to herself as "a good mixture of defects." This humility, along with her humanitarian efforts are what make her a true beauty icon. Like Chanel, her words have inspired women for years. For example, she said: "For beautiful eyes, look for the good in others; for beautiful lips, speak only words of kindness; and for poise, walk with the knowledge that you are never alone."
Josephine Baker – Proved Exotic is Beautiful 10 of 10
Singer, dancer, and actress Josephine Baker was an icon in the 1920s. With Native American and African American roots, she was a symbol of exotic beauty at a time when America was fraught with racism. As such, she gained her success in France, where she became one of the highest paid performers in the world. Baker was also known for performing nude -- there was a sexuality connected to her beauty that was well before her time. More than just a performer, she was awarded for her work for the French resistance during World War II and was the only woman to speak at the 1963 March on Washington for civil rights. Josephine opened eyes across the world, showing that beauty is confidence — and that it comes in all shapes, sizes, and colors.
Photo credit: Walery, French [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons